Novak Djokovic, in an era rated the best of all time, has joined Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal at the head of the men’s list for the most number of Grand Slam victories.
Winning Wimbledon was always the big dream of mine when I was a kid and I have to remind myself how special this is and to not take this for granted. It's a huge honour and a privilege Novak Djokovic
The Serbian world No.1 claimed his 20th major in 30th final appearances, by grinding down Italian seventh seed Matteo Berrettini 6-7(4) 6-4 6-4 6-3 over 3-hours and 24-minutes in front of a 15,000-capacity Centre Court.
And he thanked his chief rivals Federer and Nadal for helping him achieve the Slam milestone.
Djokovic, 34, who collected the golden trophy for a sixth time and a £1.7m winner’s cheque, said: “I have to make a great tribute to Rafa and Roger, they are legends of our sport and the two most important players I ever faced in my career.
“They are the reason why I am where I am today. They showed me what I needed to do to get stronger, physically, tactically and mentally. Over the last ten years it has been an incredible journey that’s not stopping here. It (having the Big Three on 20 Slams) means none of us three will stop.”
On beating Berrettini, he added: “It was more than a battle. First of all huge congratulations to Matteo for his team on a great tournament and a tough match.
“It’s not the best feeling losing in the final but there’s a great career ahead of you and as he says, it’s just the beginning.
“Winning Wimbledon was always the big dream of mine when I was a kid and I have to remind myself how special this is and to not take this for granted. It’s a huge honour and a privilege.
“As a seven-year-old I was constructing a trophy with improvised materials that I could find in my room so to come here and do this, it is amazing.”
On the possibility of winning all four Slams this year, he added: “I could definitely envisage that happening and I hope I will give it a shot. I’m in great form and played well and having my best form at Grand Slams is my No.1 priority.”
Berrettini, 25, said: “It’s just been unbelievable feelings (after the defeat), maybe too many to handle. For sure, he was better than me. Well done to him, he is writing the history of the sport and he deserves all the credit.
“I’m really happy with the final and hopefully it will not be my last one here or my last one in a slam. That is not the end but the beginning of a great career. So honoured to be here and it’s been a really great run for two weeks.
“Also with [winning] Queen’s, I could not ask for more; well, maybe a bit more!
“Congratulations to Novak’s team, they are doing something unbelievably every slam, every tournament.”
Djokovic celebrated his third Championships triumph in a row by collapsing on his back before running up to his players’ box to hug coach Goran Ivanisevic, a champion on the same court 20 years ago, and returning to acknowledge the cheers of the crowd.
The win kept him on his history-making quest of a Grand Slam in a calendar year and a Golden Slam, with the Tokyo Games this month.
And prove why he is considered an all-time Top Gun of the sport in front of Hollywood actor Tom Cruise.
With Djokovic and Berrettini, it was two gladiators out to make history. The tournament favourite versus the underdog. The experienced serial Slam champion seeking his sixth Wimbledon title from seven deciders against the major final debutant attempting to become his country’s first All England winner.
It seemed to be following the pattern of Djokovic’s semi-final against Denis Shapovalov in the opening games, as his opponent had a break point and an opportunity to secure three more as the Serb hung on to his opening two serves before Djokovic managed to break the Italian for a 3-1 lead.
Both were edgy but Djokovic had already displayed how to win the big points no matter what level his game was at.
Berrettini wanted to become the first Italian to claim a Slam crown since advisor Adriano Panatta won the 1976 French Open.
And emulate the watching Boris Becker’s 1985 feat of completing a Queen’s-Wimbledon double, something the German did 36 years ago.
But he struggled to find the rhythm of his serve which has been a big weapon on his path to the final, securing 22 aces in his last-four win against Hubert Hurakacz.
Nerves were clearly a factor. And it did not help that he was up against a player rated the best returner of all time by many experts.
But his fortunes changed in an epic eighth game when he held after seven deuces, while surviving a set point.
And the seventh seed broke Djokovic to the delight of the majority of the crowd who waved placards declaring ‘Matteo for Wimbley, England for Wembley’ linking the final to football’s Euro 2020 decider between the home nation and Italy in the evening.
Becker, once Djokovic’s coach, hinted that the Serb’s pride would have been dented. Mind you, the world No.1 has had to get used to not winning the popularity contest on Centre Court, especially when he faces his GOAT (Greatest of All Time) rival Federer.
The opening set went into a tiebreak and Berrettini raced into a 3-0 before Djokovic pegged him back to level. But the Italian edged to two set points when he picked off a backhand volley from the Serb and went in front with a 138mph second serve down the middle.
But you write Djokovic off at your peril. He is a street fighter brought up in a war-torn country. An individual with a mental strength few can match. And he bounced back immediately to go a double break up. You don’t prod the Wolf Man, the player who revealed he gained ‘wolf energy’ from growing up with the wild mammals in the mountains of his homeland. Especially when he’s supported by his ‘wolfpack’ judging by one supporter’s message.
But Berrettini hung in, mixing his game. He produced a ‘tweener’ between his legs to lob Djokovic and reduce the deficit which had extended to 5-1 by one game before breaking the favourite in the next game.
Djokovic, though, secured three set points on Berrettin’s next serve.
Yet the Italian battled back to hold and forced the Serb to serve out.
And serve out he did, without dropping a point.
Djokovic broke early in the third, pointing to his head as if to say “my mentality is right”.
But Berrettini forced him to save two break points before holding for 4-2 to the delight of his following draped in Serbian fans, who drew a smile and wave from their favourite.
And Djokovic maintained the pressure as he made his opponent play “one more shot” on most points, a pressure which was getting to the 6ft.5in Berrettini who was not walking tall.
Djokovic did just that on set point and the Italian belted a forehand wide.
But it remained a war of attrition as each held serve in the fourth set in the first Wimbledon men’s final to be umpired by a woman, Croatian Mariya Cicak.
But in the seventh game Djokovic sealed the first break of it when Berrettini double-faulted.
Victory was in the nostrils of the Serb, whose only final loss in London SW19 was against Andy Murray, Britain’s own history maker, in 2013.
Federer said: “Congrats Novak on your 20th major. I’m proud to have the opportunity to play in a special era of tennis champions. Wonderful performance, well done!”
About the author
Mike Donovan is an author and award-winning journalist who has covered Wimbledon for more than 30 years, working for a variety of newspapers and the Championships official website. He has also written on football and his latest book on the sport, Football’s Braveheart: The Authorised Biography on Dave Mackay, is about a legend with Tottenham Hotspur, Heart of Midlothian, Derby County and Scotland. It is out on Pitch Publishing on 26 July.